Belle Vue had opened as a zoo in 1846
and developed over the years to become a pleasure park with a boating lake, an extensive
funfair, and a large hall that staged the circus, brass band contests and
wrestling. The speedway stadium was one of the first to be constructed in 1928 and
was one of the few that had run continuously since that date, even throughout the
This was at the
time, a running track, the speedway itself first ran at its present home at the
Kirkmanshulme Lane stadium, although this was only for the one year in 1928.Speedway
moved to the Hyde Road stadium in 1929, and on Saturday the 23rd March, Dirt track
racing commenced there.
A meeting was organised by the then Clerk of the Course, a Mr.
E. O Spence, who later steered the Aces through their early years.
The meeting consisted of 17 races, with 6 riders in each race.
There was also a further 7 races for the 4 more advanced riders. These
were then followed by a couple of finals and several lap record attempts. Several
thousand enthusiasts packed the new stadium's grandstands, to watch short demonstrations
of this new sport.
The local newspaper the Evening Chronicle, presented a trophy called
the Mancunian Cup, for the Belle Vue Handicap. They also sponsored the big event
for the top riders, the Golden Helmet.
Belle Vue favourite, Arthur Franklyn took the Chronicle and Helmet
trophies, whilst local boy, George Hazard took the Mancunian Cup.
Prize money at the time, as authorised by the Northern Dirt Track
Owners Association was 15 shillings, 10 shillings and 5 shillings for minor heats,
and £6 for finals.
The Golden Helmet races offered prize money of £1, 15 shillings,
and 10 shillings for heats and the final was £10, £5 and £2
for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. In today's money, 15 shillings represents 75 pence!
Riders of that era included, Frank Varey, Bob Harrison, Acorn Dobson
and local professional Arthur Franklyn, who was to form the very first Belle Vue
Frank Varey captained the Aces team in 1930. They raced 21 matches
that season, winning 19, drawing 1 and losing 1. This was to be the first
season of league racing in England, with Belle Vue taking the honours. Indeed they
took the title again in 1931, with Frank Varey as their captain alongside other
famous riders of the day including Eric Langton. Indeed every member of that team
was an automatic choice for representing England and Australia’s national
Further championships were to follow in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1936.
They also claimed the championship in 1939, though this was to be the last year
of league racing for the next 6 years due to the outbreak of the second World War.
This did not however deter the management
from promoting Speedway. One of the things that Belle Vue is famed for, is that
it was the only Speedway track never to close during the war years! In 1940, Hyde
Road opened for 3 meetings over the 4 day Easter holidays, and then ran right through
the summer of that year. This was in no small way, due to the then promoter Miss
Alice Hart who always kept the track open, with many a regular Ace riding when home
on weekend leave from the Armed Services. She also launched a series of novice meetings
during the 1940’s, that were to discover a vast array of British talent.
During the following 5 seasons, Belle Vue finished runners up on
each occasion in the First Division. In 1953 they were to suffer what was then,
their worst season to date. They won only five league matches that year and had
to wait until 1963 for their first post war championship. They were captained by
the legendary Peter Craven in what was sadly the year that he was to lose his life
It wasn’t until 1969 that the Aces were again to sense triumph.
Dent Oliver, who was at the time the promoter, drafted in Ivan Mauger from Newcastle.
Along with famous names like Tommy Roper and Soren Sjosten, the Aces finished in
2nd place in the British League.
The following year they took the Championship and also the British
League Division 2 titles. They took the British League title for the next 2 years,
giving them the famous Triple Crown, whilst also retaining the 2nd Division title
in 1968 and 1969. At the time, Belle Vue seemed able to conjure up no end of talent
to join the ranks in the Aces pack. This was in fact, due largely, to Dent Olivers’
very successful training school, and the biggest crop of junior riders in the country.
Four riders were to take the World Individual Speedway Championship
whilst riding for Belle Vue at Hyde Road.
Peter Craven: 1955 and 1962
Ove Fundin : 1967
Ivan Mauger: 1969, 1970 and 1972
Peter Collins: 1976.
Thousand of fans used to flock to the old Hyde Road stadium. Many
a travelling supporters’ coach would park up hours before a meeting to spend
the day at the famous Fairground and Zoo, with its “Bobs” and
“Scenic Railway” roller coaster rides, Boating Lake and Dance Halls.
Many a romance was struck up at Belle Vue! It was commonly known that
the entrance ticket to the Speedway, automatically entitled anyone to free entrance
into the Fairground once Speedway
meetings had finished.
( More about Belle Vue’s Fairground, Zoo, Dance Halls and
King’s Hall, can be found within this website)
Sadly, with the introduction of the video player into our living
room, better public transport and motorways, Belle Vue started to suffer in popularity
throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Also
poor management was blamed. Modernisation and not moving with the times saw the
park fall into decline. The Zoo was closed down, with the animals moving to other
zoo’s. Next saw the closure of the Fairground.
This was seen by many as the start of falling
crowds to the Speedway, particularly by the travelling supporters.
Much has been published about the demise of Hyde Road Stadium,
and as much as I can, I shall try not to use this page to vent my own personal
feelings about it.
In 1981, former World Stock Car Champion, Stuart Bamforth bought
the Stadium from the Trust House Forte group, for an alleged figure of £400,000,
and spent double that amount in an effort to maintain it.
However in 1987, he sold it to the British Car Auction group for
a figure reported to have been £10 million pounds! So ending 59 years
of unbroken Speedway racing at Hyde Road, and the end of an era. Ironically Bamforth
made his fortune from demolition work and was now indirectly knocking down the most
famous Speedway stadium in the world!
He was quoted in the press at the time as saying, “ There’s
no way I could have afforded to bring Belle Vue up to Government safety requirements."
"It would have had to go eventually. And I’d prefer
to think that I saved Belle Vue for 5 years rather than be remembered as the man
who closed it”
“I’m sure Trust House Forte would have sold it for
redevelopment if I hadn’t bought the place."
"I sympathise with the supporters who have drawn up petitions
to save Belle Vue. But I have been put under tremendous pressure by British Car
Auctions and after the turn of events at the weekend over the League Cup final,
I finally agreed to sell. But the price is nowhere near £10 million. I only
wish it was”.
“It’s not the end of Belle Vue Aces because the council
has a site in Cheetham Hill where a new stadium can be built to stage Speedway and
Stock Car racing”
“ I’m quite prepared to put my money in and help build
the stadium ready for the next Speedway season. But I’m not sure I will be
interested in running Speedway there myself. I will probably sub-let it.”
In fact Mr Bamforth did not put his money into it. The Manchester
council rejected the site at Cheetham Hill. The Hyde Road stadium was razed to the
ground in a matter of weeks by a “famous” demolition firm.
Prior to this, however, an auction was held there on 1st December.
Not just any auction. This was to be the final act of coldly condemning
Belle Vue, the most famous of Speedway venues, into the annuls of the history books.
Under the hammer went 371 lots, each categorised by a firm of auctioneers
from Huddersfield .At a cost of 50p, fans, riders and friends alike, could buy the
programme that listed everything Belle Vue had stood for. Items included cups, flags,
pennants, photographs, helmet covers and race jackets. Other items included, the
150 foot floodlight pylons, fire extinguishers, 7 turnstiles, a pick-up truck, plastic
seats and even the gents urinals!
The very flags that used to crack and flutter from their masts
on the centre green were amongst the lots offered. Fortunately, they still survive,
thanks to Mr.
Dave Walker, one of the senior members
of the track staff. They now fly proudly from their masts at Belle Vue’s current
home at the Greyhound stadium. So when you next see Dave, sat astride the tractor,
grading the track, remember to say a big thank you. Every race day, Dave proudly
raises the Union and Belle Vue Aces flags up their masts on the centre green. And
woe betide any member of the track staff who mistreat them, when taking them down
at the end of the night!
Just one of many people who packed into that crowded, smoky, portable
clubhouse for 4 hours, that gloomy miserable Tuesday afternoon, that cold December,
in a bid to secure and in most cases, rescue a part of this famous club’s
Perhaps the greatest horror that day, was to discover that all
the trophies were also to be auctioned off. Surely this couldn’t be allowed
to happen! Here on offer was nearly 60 years of Belle Vue’s history being
sold off like some cheap and nasty jumble sale! Fortunately, they were withdrawn
at the last minute, in perhaps what may have been a moment’s prick at the
Another man there that day, was one
of Belle Vue’s most famous sons. Peter Collins was there bidding to rescue
many of it’s artefacts and memorabilia. Perhaps one of the greatest speedway
riders to don the famous Aces race jacket, Peter was there, not just with this in
mind, but also in a business sense. In the weeks that followed the closure of Hyde
Road, he had stepped in to become part of a group determined to save the Aces, and
was now doing his best to secure the items he deemed as essential if this rescue
act was to be successful.
During the course of that gloomy miserable winter of 1987, there
were several public meetings, Members of the Manchester council, fans and the local
residents met, all eager to save the Aces and to find a new venue for 1988. The
very year that would celebrate 60 years of Speedway in the city.
Amongst the 500 or so people that regularly turned up at these
meetings, were, Peter Collins, Chris Morton and Kenny McKinna. Chris Morton stood
up and asked if the council would support someone wanting to promote Speedway in
Manchester, and find a suitable site for a new venue. Mr. Spencer of Manchester
council, replied that there was land available in East Manchester, and lots of it.
Land is no problem if there is a person willing to finance a new Speedway venture.
Stuart Bamforth? And British Car Auctions? Where were they during
all of this? Nowhere to be seen! Hadn’t they promised to help too?
Finally, Peter Collins, along with his friend and business partner,
Mr. John Perrin, stepped in. All the talk of a new venue at Cheetham Hill came to
And so it was, that the two of them
approached the management at Belle Vue’s Greyhound stadium. Could it be that
in what was to be the Diamond Jubilee year of the Aces, they would return to the
very place where it had all started back in 1928? Could the money be found? Would
there be the time and expertise needed?
A deal was struck. Peter and John bought the Belle Vue licence
and current riders contracts from the elusive Bamforth. But there was still so much
to do. With all of Peter’s vast experience of racing Speedway tracks, the
Greyhound circuit was inspected. Underneath the ground that ran inside the Dog track,
some of the original Speedway track from 1928 was unearthed! Even the original red
shale was still there!
Conforming with the Speedway Racing Regulations, a race circuit
was mapped and marked out. The Hyde Road circuit had been some 382 metres in length.
Clearly there wasn’t the room to construct a track of that size here. The
final planned layout gave a size of 285 metres. A far cry from Hyde Road’s
huge circuit, but a least it was a start.
What is more, it was of a similar size to most other tracks
around the country.
It was now mid January 1988 and negotiations with the stadium owners
had been successful, although full permission was still to come from Peter’s
application to the Manchester council.
Another public meeting was arranged and was attended by some 600
people. Local environment issues were discussed.Local residents asked a few questions
about noise etc, but all in all, they were very helpful and supportive. A decision
was expected within a week, but it was looking very
favourable, Thanks in no small way,
to the local residents acceptance. In fact the noise issue was only contested by
the city council’s environmental health department.
The nod finally came through in the first week of February and
now it was all hands to the pumps. Could it be done in time? Would it be ready?
How much would it all cost?
Peter launched a £25,000 appeal fund, to build the facilities
at the new base, but the response was only lukewarm, when suddenly, the villains
in all of this stepped forward British Car Auctions chief executive Tom Gibson donated
a cheque for the £25,000 on the 26th February.
Peter said “This is a fantastic boost and a great weight
off our shoulders. It means all the work we need to do by April 1st is paid for
and the donation’s to the appeal will provide money to make the facilities
the best in the league. That has always been our aim”.
In fact, British Car Auctions went on to sponsor the Peter Craven
Memorial Trophy that year, in what was the 25th anniversary of the death of the
twice World Champion and Belle Vue favourite.
This in some ways off set the pain
and anguish amongst the fans and riders alike, although to many, it was seen as
blood money from the very firm that had taken away their precious Hyde Road stadium.
During the course of the next 6 weeks, all the stops were pulled
out. Fans and staff alike, all turned up at the Greyhound stadium, to offer help.
I, myself, was amongst the many fans who turned up, voluntarily, to help dig up
the area for the race track. Electricians, plumbers and painters and decorators
all offered their services to get the place ready for the new season and new era.
On Friday (the new race night) 25th March there was a press day,
although the track was unrideable, due to week long heavy downpours of rain. That
didn’t stop people turning out to greet the stars of the New Belle Vue Aces.
The following week saw the launch of the new season with their
first meeting of the season. This was a Frank Varey Northern Trophy match against
the Bradford Dukes. Typically as is the norm at the start of any new Speedway season,
the rain fell to wash it out In fact only two races were ridden before the track
and conditions made it impossible to continue. At the time, Belle Vue were leading
7 - 5. Peter Ravn the Danish ace riding at number one for the Aces won heat one
in what was to be the first Speedway race back at the original venue of the Aces
since 1928! So continuing the history of the most famous Speedway team in the world,
The Belle Vue Aces.
by Kevan P. Platts.